In this article I will give you a few of the many things you should really do when you pay a visit to Japan. Japan is a unique country with many traditional and cultural features.
1. Take place in a traditional tea ceremony
The tea ceremony is a very traditional activity in Japan. It is a ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea, called Matcha, together with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea. The ceremony has a large amount of steps for the process. At the end, it is not about drinking the tea, but preparing a bowl of green tea. When I was at a tea ceremony in Kyoto, there was a woman who made the tea step by step and meanwhile there was another woman (the host) who gave each one of us two sweets. When the tea was ready, the host handed over a bowl of tea to every one of us, did (sort of) a prayer and made a bow. After that, we could drink our tea and eat our sweets.
It was very interesting and informative to experience a traditional tea ceremony and I can really recommend it when you are planning to travel to Japan. In the photo above you can see the host who explained the preparation steps for us and the woman who prepared the tea.
2. Overnight in a traditional Ryokan
I have already told you something about the traditional Ryokan in my Nara and Hakone article of Japan. This is absolutely something you should do when you are travelling to Japan! During my trip, I spent one night in a Ryokan.
But what exactly is a Ryokan? Well, from the inside and out it really is a traditional, Japanese building with lots of details. Furthermore, one of the most exciting things, a Ryokan offers you to sleep in a traditional, Japanese bedroom where you sleep on the ground and sit on pillows on the ground at a low table (unfortunately I got a Western bedroom, I would have loved to try a traditional room). Also, it is required that you walk in a kimono through the Ryokan: you have to dine in your kimono and have breakfast too. You can chose a kimono when you arrive at the Ryokan. The fact that almost every Ryokan has a hot spring (a relaxing place with swimming pool) and a lounge bar (with karaoke!) makes it even more special.
Yes, this was absolutely a great experience. The fact that you have to walk in your kimono all day is not that bad, I actually really liked it and it was so much fun to ‘live’ like a real Japanese for one night.
3. Go to one of the many hot springs
So, like I told before, you can find hot springs in almost every Ryokan. However, you can not only find them in Ryokans. The hot springs are very popular across Japan and every region has its share of hot springs and resort towns; you can find them indoors and outdoors.
They say that hot springs give you a relaxing effect on your body and mind. There are several types of hot springs and different minerals provide different health benefits. Go take a look on the internet for hot springs and you can see that there are so many. You can then chose a hot spring which is nearby your destination in Japan if you would like to try one out.
4 .Visit the many temples and shrines
Japan is well-known for its many temples and shrines and most of them are so beautiful and so detailed in the Japanese architecture. During my trip through Japan, I loved to visit those temples and shrines, especially the ones in Kyoto.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is very popular and very touristic, but on the other hand also a very beautiful and impressive shrine. I really loved to walk around here and it was definitely my favourite shrine which I have seen, together with the Kinkakuji temple. This temple (also known as the Golden Pavilion) also is a very touristic place, but oh so pretty and very photogenic. The gardens and nature around the temple also was a beautiful thing to see and capture.
5. Try food with the Matcha taste
At point one I already told you about Matcha: the traditional, Japanese green tea which is often used during tea ceremonies. However, you can also get a lot of treats in Japan, made of Matcha. You can get a lot of Matcha chocolate and ice cream for example, which also have a green colour. I tried a Kit Kat with the Matcha taste and personally, I really liked it. Because it is really something Japanese, you should definitely try it when travelling to Japan.
6. Take a sushi class
I already told you something about the sushi class I took during my trip to Japan in my article about Tokyo and I can really recommend to do this when you are in the country. Sushi as well is something typical Japanese and there are so many possibilities to have a sushi class in Japan, so why wouldn’t you do it? I found it very fun and informative to make my own sushi and at the end, I could eat it as well for lunch.
7. Spot Geisha’s
From what I know, you have a district in Kyoto where you can spot Geisha’s. Geisha’s are Japanese women, dressed in kimono’s and with a white-painted face and red lips. They also wear a wig from black hair. Geisha’s are known as companions and are seen as examples from beauty and sophisticated culture.
The district where you can find them is called the Gion district. Unfortunately, it is very hard to take a picture of the Geisha’s, since they just show up sometimes and most of the time they are running around. By the time you want to take a picture, they are, most of the time, already gone. However, it is nice to spot the Geisha’s and nice to walk around this district, because it has some traditional, wooden houses which gives a nice view.
8. See Mount Fuji
I have been to Mount Fuji during my trip through Japan, but unfortunately I have not seen it. Due to the bad weather, the sky was so misty that I could not get a great view over Mount Fuji. I was so disappointed, because this was really something I would want to see and to experience. When I get the chance, I would definitely go back to this place when the weather is better. I think it is such a beautiful view, especially what I see from photos. Furthermore, I have seen the environment of Mount Fuji, included lake Ashi, which also was very beautiful.
9. Stay in a capsule hotel
Japan is also well-known for its many capsule hotels. During my trip in the country I have not stay in one of these hotels, but I think it is definitely something you should experience when you are travelling to Japan. You are literally sleeping in a small capsule. Most of the capsule hotels have rooms with television, radio, a lamp and air conditioning. Even though these are very small rooms, I think this will be a great experience to spend a few nights in a capsule like that.
10. See the cherry blossoms
To get the chance to see the cherry blossoms, you should go to Japan in spring time. I was there in the autumn, so I have not get a glance over the cherry blossoms, unfortunately. However, I have seen some extremely beautiful pictures of these blossoms and therefore I think this is one of the things you should really do when travelling to Japan. When I get the chance to go back to the country, I would definitely chose to go in spring.
11. Explore the urban environment
This is an activity which you can do best in Tokyo, since this capital city has more than fifty neighbourhoods which are worth exploring. Tokyo’s architecture, people and culture are so various and therefore they are worth a look. It is very interesting to just take a walk and see how many different kind of people and cultures you cross.
12. Do some karaoke
In Japan, you can find karaoke bars everywhere! This is a popular activity for the Japanese in the evening as a ‘night out’. As I told you before, you can mostly find karaoke bars in Ryokans, but also in the cities. Just ask around or look on the internet and you will find plenty.
Since karaoke is a popular activity in Japan, I think you should definitely try it out when travelling to the country. I did some karaoke when I was in Hakone, in the Ryokan, but I also did some karaoke in Tokyo, where we just ran into a karaoke bar while walking a bit. It is a very fun activity, especially when you are in a big group!
13. Try the Japanese drink Sake
Sake is typical a typical Japanese (alcoholic) drink which you should definitely try when you are travelling to Japan. This drink is, among others, made of rice. Honestly, I did not like it as much as I hoped I would, but it was worth the try, since it is typical Japanese.
14. Travel by the Shinkansen train
The Shinkansen is a network of high-speed railway lines. These trains are the way to travel in Japan. They are not expensive and you can arrive at your destination very fast. It is nice to feel like a local and travel by train to a place. I have travelled by train from Kyoto to Hakone and it was only an hour travelling, which is very fast.
15. View Tokyo’s skyline
In my hotel in Tokyo I had the honour to stay on the 29th floor, which gave me such a breath taking view over the city. I literally put a chair close to the window, just sat there for quite a while and dreamed away by looking at the beautiful view over Tokyo. I had this view from my hotel room, but I am sure there are more places around the city where you can get a nice view just as I had.
And there are so many more things you should absolutely do when you are travelling to Japan. These are my ultimate things to do in the country. Part of them I have done, part of them not yet. The things I did do can also be found back in my other articles about Japan for more information. Hopefully I can experience much more another time. I hope these tips are useful for you!